Reading Help: What to Do If….

You Don’t Know a Word

Use context clues! Look at the words surrounding the unfamiliar word; they may provide clues to the meaning of the word.

Examples may suggest the meaning of an unknown word. Look for key words like for instance, such as, including. Synonyms are words that mean the same or almost the same. You may find a synonym anywhere in the passage, providing the same meaning as the unfamiliar word. Antonyms are words that mean the opposite of another word. Key words to look for are however, but, yet, on the other hand, in contrast. General Sense of the Sentence means asking yourself questions about the clues surrounding the unfamiliar word and using common sense (logic) to determine the meaning of the word. You have to do a bit of detective work.

Use a dictionary. Look up the unfamiliar word in a dictionary. If you don’t have a dictionary, get one or use an online dictionary.

 You Don’t Understand What You Read

Use fix-up strategies. Make notes to the side of the text as you read (this is called annotating). Use sticky notes to make notes on confusing passages. Use a highlighter to mark main points and confusing words. Adjust your reading rate; slow down. Ask questions as you read. Circle unfamiliar words. Talk to someone about the reading. Write a short journal entry about what you read. RE-READ if necessary!

 You Don’t Know Where to Start

Pre-read. Read the title and subtitle of the article or chapter. Note any pictures or graphics (tables, charts, etc.). Look them over. Read the sub-headings. Most articles have several sub-headings; think of them as chapter titles. Read the first sentence under each sub-heading. Read the introduction to the reading (the first paragraph). Doing all of these things will help you get focused and give you an idea about what the reading will be about.

 You Find Yourself Bored

Engage with the text. Make a prediction about what you think will happen. Ask yourself questions and try to answer them. Connect the reading to something you have heard before and had happen to you. Talk to someone about what you are reading.

Visualize what is happening in the article or book in your head. Draw a picture of the characters or scenes.

 You Are Feeling Overwhelmed

Break it down. Make an outline of the reading. What is the main idea (what the reading is about)? What details support that main idea?

Read one section at a time. Stop after each section and jot down some notes about what the section was about. Write down any unfamiliar words and look them up in the dictionary before moving on to the next section.

About Karen Y. Hamilton

Walt Whitman says about his autobiography, Specimen Days “…At any rate I obey my happy hour’s command, which seems curiously imperative. May-be, if don’t do anything else, I shall send out the most wayward, spontaneous, fragmentary book ever printed.” This is what I feel at this juncture of my life, the need to gather together memories of my ancestors as well as my own memories into some semblance of order. Because all of those fragments, all of the fragments that make up any life, become stories. I am the mother of three sons, who affectionately (I hope!) call me 'gypsy mom' because I tend to wander around a bit soaking in the universe's wonders. I am currently working towards an MFA in Creative Writing at Florida Atlantic University. I have published essays with Heritage Press, Florida Living, and the St. Pauls Review. I am currently working on a book of poems about the Florida Everglades pioneers and a memoir about grief and the bonds of friendship. I live in my hometown, Jupiter, Florida and work as a freelance writer and curriculum specialist.
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